By Walter Fenton
After hours of debate, spread over three days, and marred by widespread confusion and frustration over parliamentary process, the delegates at The United Methodist Church’s General Conference declined to adopt Rule 44. The controversial rule called for delegates to set aside Robert’s Rules of Order and adopt a “discernment process” for considering issues regarding same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy.
The rule fell well short of the required two-thirds vote necessary for passage. Only 43 percent of the delegates voted for its adoption.
“We are thankful that the majority of the GC delegates voted against Rule 44,” said the Rev. Tom Lambrecht, vice-president of operations for Good News and the leader of the conservative Renewal and Reform Coalition. “Although the impetus behind the rule was well intended, we think the delegates were wise to reject it.”
The Commission on the General Conference researched and designed the discernment process embodied in the rule based on a directive from the delegates at the 2012 General Conference.
However, ever since its introduction earlier this year it has stirred controversy. Some believed its adoption would facilitate better conversation around the issues of same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy than the traditional use of Robert’s Rules of Order.
Others believed the rule would actually have diminished transparency and eroded confidence in the actions of General Conference. They noted that the work of thousands of United Methodists who had prepared, debated, and approved petitions in their annual conferences could simply be set aside by a very small, select group of six delegates.
Furthermore, they argued that the presence of conversation “monitors” at the nearly 60 small group tables where issues were to be discussed, would have chilled debate and undermined trust.
The COGC had already chosen the monitors. They were to be members from the Committee on the Status and Role of Women, the Committee on Religion and Race, and the organization JustPeace. The monitors would have been empowered to call out behavior or speech they believed to be offensive to other people at the table.
Over the next few days the delegates will spend the balance of their time in one of twelve legislative sections debating and voting on petitions submitted to the conference. Many of the over 1,000 petitions will be forwarded to the entire body of delegates during plenary sessions throughout all of next week.
“The delegates have a great deal of work to do over the next several days,” said Lambrecht. “They have a wide range of matters to consider, everything from divesting UM pension funds from oil and gas companies, to same-sex marriage, and even major plans for restructuring the denomination. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.”
Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and an analyst for Good News.